Dominant developer hits glass ceiling -- Spain's EHN finds way blocked

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Although it is behind 1067 MW, or just over a quarter of Spain's online wind capacity, expansion plans for the country's largest wind developer, Energía Hidroeléctrica de Navarra (EHN ), are on hold. Installed wind capacity in the company's home region of Navarra has almost reached the ceiling imposed by the regional government in 1998. Administrative delays and grid restrictions in Castile-La Mancha have also slowed development to the extent that a turbine contract and a project finance deal, both brandished in their day as world records, are having to be renegotiated.

Elsewhere, EHN's surest large-scale plans rest on a 758 MW concession in Valencia, where individual projects are yet to be processed. Similarly, the company is awaiting the go-ahead on plans abroad totalling thousands of megawatts. But the exact shape these will take is becoming increasingly uncertain as EHN prepares for the withdrawal of one of its main shareholders, utility Iberdrola, which controls 37%. Nearly all EHN wind developments outside Navarra are overseen by Energías Eólicas Europeas Holding, a 50-50 joint venture between EHN and utility Iberdrola. Most indicators point to a split in joint interests rather than any efforts to see eye to eye between the two companies (Windpower Monthly, September 2002).

Slow but not stopped

The most immediate hold-up involves what were previously considered hard and fast projects from Energias Eólicas Europeas (EEE) in Castile-La Mancha, where the company has brought online 560 MW in just four years, with a further 65 MW close to completion and 143 MW building. EEE had planned to put up a total of 1173 MW by the end of 2002, a deadline now impossible to meet. In 2001 the plan won EEE a syndicated loan agreement worth EUR 913.5 million from 51 international credit entities, the largest project finance deal ever for renewables. Now the loan is being renegotiated, as is the world record order from two year's ago for 1800 turbines from Spain's Gamesa Eólica.

"It's simply a case that regional administration processing has gone at a slower pace than expected," says EHN's Jose Arrieta. "But our objective for Castile-La Mancha remains the same: 1173 MW. And if that's not possible for 2002, then we'll aim for the end of 2003." He adds that grid and administrative bottlenecks had earlier caused similar delays even in the renewables pioneering region of Navarra, whose regional government controls 38% of EHN directly and another 10% indirectly. Arrieta claims that renegotiations with all 51 creditors are "going well" and that "expectations are high," though he was unwilling to give away details.

On their own

Arrieta denies rumours that EEE is setting itself apart from other developers in Castile-La Mancha by refusing to join them in round table negotiations for jointly financing grid improvements. The round tables are the consequence of a plan drawn up by the national grid operator Red Eléctrica Española (REE) and the regional government aimed at fast tracking grid extensions at developers' expense to free up around 4000 MW of capacity for wind (Windpower Monthly, August 2002).

But despite denials, Arrieta prefers not to comment on whether EEE is actively negotiating with fellow developers within the terms of the plan. New rumours are emerging, however, that EEE is trying to draw support from smaller neighbouring developers for a proposal of its own within the confines of the grid plan.

Meanwhile, divorce proceedings with Iberdrola advance behind closed doors. Many insiders expect a regional partition of assets -- Navarra for EHN and Castile-La Mancha for Iberdrola -- though other sources claim this is simplistic, asking how a firm concession in Valencia could be traded for broader framework agreements in the US, Latin America and Canada. Maybe recent reports of a 200 MW permit clinched by Iberdrola for Brazil (page 25) represents part of a trade off for Valencia. With both companies remaining tight-lipped, the industry can only guess.

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